Can it really be a coincidence that just as Radiohead released
the much-anticipated Amnesiac, M. Ward, a relatively unknown
Portland guitarist, released an album called End of Amnesia?
As Radiohead plunges into abstract, modern, post-whatever music, M.
Ward takes a step back into the romantic era of the acoustic guitar -- a time when it
wasn't unacceptably clichéd to sing about women who burned
their way into your memories, happy and nostalgic childhood times and fellow
Despite its rootsy, acoustic feel, End of Amnesia is quite innovative. Mixing acoustic sounds with light drums, pianos and even what seem to be recordings from a 1940s radio, Ward puts a contemporary sheen on this old-fashioned style. Despite its
strongly folkish and traditional ways, it even feels like an indie
album -- sort of like the Summer Hymns, but more low key and modest...and absolutely
nothing like Radiohead.
Ward's songs are anything but forced. Some are gentle and fragile,
others strong and inspirational. Despite Ward's very particualar style, he packs his songs with a broad range of emotions and topics. "Half Moon" is, if there ever
was such a thing, a perfect acoustic song. It begins with one of Ward's '40s
radio recordings, which is soon replaced by a melodic acoustic
guitar and a light drum. Ward's vocals here resemble an American
version of Nick Drake; indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if this song is meant to pay
homage to him. "Bad Dreams" is a lonely-feeling love song with delicate
imagery of two lovers chasing each other around a room, while "Silverline" experiments with instrumental blues and "Flaming Heart" mines pure rock a la Elvis and his contemporaries. "From a Pirate Radio" stands out as well; it's a beautiful song about, among other things, a young man's eagerness to grow up.
Perhaps, by calling their latest album Amnesiac, Radiohead are forgetting music's past, moving resolutely into its future in order to discover a sound that has never been heard before. In which case, by calling his album End of Amnesia, M. Ward is saying that he will not be afraid to
return to music's roots, looking to yesterday's musical styles for inspiration.